Is Assam Episode-II of Myanmar’s Rohingya Crisis?

British took over Assam in 1826 after the Yandabo Treaty, and then different groups of people were invited to Assam for its economic development. People of Bengal were educated and aware of English language, si, they were called to manage the administrative sections such as revenue, post office, railways, banks, etc.

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Is Assam Episode-II of Myanmar’s Rohingya Crisis?
People of Assam Protesting against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill
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It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong. What matters is how governments are acting as dictators to solve state issues forgetting to take the humanitarian ground in public policymaking. The case is repeated in Assam again

From past 8 months, when I visited Assam for the first time I started studying its issues especially NRC and D-voters problem. The Student Islamic Organisation (SIO), a student wing, decided to send a team to study and prepare a ground report which I led and we were there for a week and met with Intellectuals, Advocates, Social Activists, leaders of various organizations and common people who are really the victims of the state and by the state. The detailed fact-finding will be released soon. However, I felt that the issue should be brought to public domain as early as possible because rest of India is unaware of the facts and real plight of the citizens in Assam. The content below is a discussion with various people and few are our observations.

History of Assam:

British took over Assam in 1826 after the Yandabo Treaty, and then different groups of people were invited to Assam for its economic development. People of Bengal were educated and aware of English language, si, they were called to manage the administrative sections such as revenue, post office, railways, banks, etc. Later, this group merged themselves with Assamese community who were earlier migrants from Bengal, Orissa, and Kanuaj. Another group was invited by Britishers from Bihar, Jharkhand and some parts of Uttar Pradesh for developing tea cultivation specially and this group now constitutes the labor population of Assam. The basic need of food to above two groups who are migrants was not according to their requirements, as Muslims of East Bengal were famous for cultivation. So Britishers brought Muslims from Bengal for production of food, vegetables and Jute to Assam, as the land was suitable for cultivation and still it is rich in natural resources. Unfortunately, original Assamese accepted the first group of people from Bengal and they are now part of intellectuals and the second group as workers, majority belongs to schedule tribes but the people who were brought to feed the above two groups are being termed as foreigners.

Issue and its background

⦁ In the year 1998, Late Sri. S K Sinha, then governor of Assam reported an influx of Bangladeshi into Assam and it was alleged that daily 6000 Bangladeshi were coming into Assam, without verifying the authenticity HC of Assam repealed IM(D)T Act.

⦁ A citizen of India can be made doubtful by putting D mark against his/her name in the prepared voter list without any intimation or notice.

⦁ A border police makes reports of a free citizen on the basis of mere suspicion as a foreigner by sitting in the offices and refers the case to the Tribunals.

⦁ The targeted people are mostly illiterate, poor and unaware of what is happening regarding the citizenship.

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⦁ No proper proof with officials to explain why they are mentioning the D in front of the name of voters and making them doubtful voter later they can be declared as foreigners.

⦁ The authorities at tribunals (not all) are picking up minor discrepancies in the name, title, age, change of residence, marital status. In many cases, genuine shreds of evidence are being ignored despite having no denial of cross-examination by state.

⦁ Guidelines framed in the full bench decision are not followed by most of the tribunals as well as by the higher judiciary in deciding the foreigners’ cases. The tribunals have developed the trend not to accept the explanations and to declare a person as a foreigner.

⦁ Every year erosion by the Brahmaputra and other rivers have made lakhs of people mostly Muslims as landless and homeless; the government has not rehabilitated these people. Landless, Jobless Muslims are to move place to place to work and earn for basic needs are caught as doubtful citizens are harassed or also declared as foreigners later.

Bimala Khatun a victim of state or illiteracy?

Some lawyers performances, dealing with foreigners cases, is creating silly mistakes and based on the arguments doubtful voters are being termed as foreigners by tribunals and are placed in 6 detention camps across the state of Assam. Here is one example of Bimala Khatun, who received a notice from the police and contacted lawyers and provided him with all documents she has to prove her identity as an Indian citizen. Later she received two more notices, and lawyer failed to argue his case to prove his client as Indian and tribunal declared her a foreigner.

Later, police arrested her with his younger son at Central Jail of Tezpur. Bimala Khatun is a mother of 4 children and 3 of them were are with their father. After a few days, father of 4 and husband of Bimala Khatun died due to ill health and children were with elder brother of her husband. A few days later, her elder brother too expired and children are with their grandparents (parents of Bimala Khatun). She is helpless in Jail at Tezpur, crying for well begin of her children and parents are very poor unable to provide basic facilities but still, they are trying to adjust with them.

Children said that they are allowed to meet their mother once in a month in the jail. When we met Bimala Khatun in jail, she narrated her life in jail and was too emotional for their children. As she along with others were fasting inside the jail, authorities not providing them food. Idgah committee is providing Iftaar to two hundred people inside jail daily.

The education of children is stalled. No one knows what will happen to her and when will she be released and what about the future of children!

This is just one story. There are many such cases in many districts of Assam.

Present Situation of Citizens

The Government of Assam is making the list of citizens. They must provide documents proving that they or their family lived in the country before March 24, 1971 – a date that accounts for the migration of people from across Bangladesh. Though all the communities have to fill up the form for the NRC updating, the verification process has particularly been made very tough for Muslims and Bengali Hindus.

Approximately 2.9 million women, most of them are Muslims, and nearly 4.5 million others are part of about 13 million people who were left out from the first draft NRC published on December 31, 2017.

A large number of genuine Indian citizens might be dropped from the NRC list, which is slated to be published on 30th June 2018. Tens of thousands whose names will not be in NRC list will be thrown in detention centers and may be rendered stateless. Their basic right to vote will vanish. They cant buy property, etc., most of their fundamental rights as Indian citizens will be erased, similar to the Rohingya people in Myanmar.

Pray for Justice

On one side, the case is pending in SC. The people whose names will be missed in NRC list after 30th June will be given either 1 or 2 months to prove their identity. In just 100 tribunals in which 89 in working state, how can these courts give judgment of lakhs of citizens? Many senior lawyers said that most of the tribunal workers are biased and appointed as temporary, they need to satisfy the government and so-called politicians to make their jobs permanent. How can justice be provided to people when authorities are biased?

On the other hand, Bangladesh authorities are asking to prove their identity of Bangladesh when they are declared as foreigners by India. What will be the condition of Assamese after 30th June 2018? Will Assam be Episode-II of Myanmar?

Tens of questions being raised, no one has answers. Who is responsible for such a situation in Assam, present government or past governments or the fate of illiterates people? It’s time that people should think on the humanitarian basis for the plight of Indian citizens at Assam and help them to lead their life with dignity.

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Article was written by Syed Azharuddin

He has completed B.Tech, M.tech, followed by M.A English and M.Sc Psychology. Worked as Assistant Professor in Department of Electronics and Communications Engineering and presently working at Centre for Education and Research Training, New Delhi, a research-based institute.